Last week, the College lost one of its most beloved alumni, former head basketball coach Al Van Wie. Van Wie, known on campus as the “Dutchman,” passed away at age 85 on Wednesday, Sept. 18. After nearly 60 years of involvement on campus, Van Wie has left behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
Van Wie knew since seventh grade that he wanted to coach. In a retirement tribute years ago, he said, “Growing up, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a coach, and to have that opportunity was very rewarding and gratifying.”
Van Wie graduated from Wooster in 1952 as a physical education major. He met his wife, Judy Tilford Van Wie ’50 while in college and they were married on Sept. 2, 1951, a year before he graduated.
In 1960, after teaching and coaching at four different high schools, he accepted an offer to serve as an assistant football, basketball and track coach at the College. A year later, Van Wie moved up to head basketball coach, succeeding Jim Ewers. He went on to lead the Scots to 302 wins, two Ohio Athletic Conference championships and two berths in the NCAA Tournament. He also coached men’s tennis to a 101-50 record between 1962 and 1975.
Around this time, Van Wie was the first coach in Ohio to start a basketball camp for middle and high school boys, Camp Fighting Scot. In addition to the camp, he started the Mose Hole Wooster Classic, now one of the oldest holiday tournaments still continuing in the country.
In 1973 Van Wie was named the chair of the department of physical education at the College and, one year later, director of athletics and physical education. He vastly expanded the athletic program in the following 17 years, promoting equality for women’s sports and academic achievement by taking a lead role in the formation of the North Coast Athletic Conference. At that time, Van Wie also served as NCAA vice president for Division III. Van Wie was inducted into four halls of fame for both the College and Wayne County. He also hired current basketball coach Steve Moore, who owns a 595-134 record over the past 25 seasons.
As reported in The Daily Record, “Coach Van Wie was an outstanding basketball coach, but he was more than that. He was a fine person, an outstanding gentleman and he did a lot more than just coach basketball.”
Aside from Van Wie’s affiliation with the College, he also had a strong commitment to community service. Notably, he was very active in the Wayne County Committee for Crippled Children and Adults, and he also served as campaign chairman for United Way in Wooster. In 1994, the Wooster Rotary Club and the College combined to establish the Al Van Wie Rotary Classic, a basketball tournament held each November which includes a clinic for children and a food drive that helps to stock the food pantry at People-to-People Ministries.
Van Wie held the belief that athletics are important to the College because they are about more than just physical activity.
“There must be educational value in athletics,” he told the College news service upon receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010. “If not, it shouldn’t be on campus. The basketball court was my classroom.” Even after his retirement in 1991, Van Wie continued to support Wooster athletics by attending sporting events and mentoring new coaches and athletes.